ZoomFloppy launches soon

00:36 by akylas. Filed under: Hardware

As I sit here waiting for my XA1541 cable to arrive, we are days away from the anticipated launch of the ZoomFloppy, a device created by Jim Brain that allows you to hook up a Commodore floppy drive (e.g. 1541) to a modern-day PC via USB.

ZoomFloppy - Image courtesy of RETRO Innovations

As mentioned in a previous article, the easiest way to connect a Commodore floppy drive up to a PC of the 21st century is using the Xx1541 series cables. However, this requires that the PC you’re trying to connect to has a LPT port. With the ZoomFloppy, all you need is that device. You simply will be able to connect the floppy drive, using the same cable you would use to connect it to the commodore, to the ZoomFloppy device, then use a microUSB to USB cable to connect the ZoomFloppy to the PC. The PC would be providing power to the unit over USB.

Unfortunately, I purchased a XA1541 cable prior to knowing about the ZoomFloppy’s existence. I still may pick one up, as I haven’t pre-ordered it. Granted, it’s always good having multiple ways on hand to connect the 1541 up to a computer. I’m sure many hobbyists can attest to that. Also, my XA1541 is coming over from the UK and is estimated to take two to three weeks. I can probably order now and receive the ZoomFloppy before my XA1541 cable arrives.



A brief look at the Nokia N800 and Maemo

23:21 by akylas. Filed under: Hardware,Software

This was one of my favorite devices. I first ran across Maemo (the Debian-based operating system it runs) when a friend showed me the Nokia N770, the first in the Nxxx series, while Geocaching. It was running an open linux system in the palm of your hand! Back then, the PDA OS du jour was Windows CE variants and Palm OS. It was my first introduction to the platform and I had never heard of any other PDA with a linux distribution on it that we can easily gain root to by opening the shipped terminal on the device and simply typing “sudo gainroot”.

Nokia N800 running Maemo 4

This was several months after the N800 released and around the day the Nokia N810 was announced (the device in the series after the N800). The moment I got home, I researched it further online and bought it a few days later. It only took a couple days to arrive and boy was I pumped when it arrived.

As mentioned earlier, the Nokia N800 runs Maemo 4 (or Internet Tablet OS 2008 as Nokia liked to term it back then). It originally shipped with Maemo 3 but with an update, you were able to bump the platform up to 4, then eventually 4.1. Maemo 1 and 2 were Nokia N770 releases exclusively, roughly released in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Of course, all this information you could look up on Wikipedia, so I’ll skip over that stuff.

Why did I like it? Well, it meant I could pretty much run any Linux application I wanted to–for the most part. It had to compile for ARM, but that just meant that I could load the sources onto the device and use gcc to compile it on the device itself. Anything UI related got tricky, and I often depended on other users packaged bundles for that part. Nokia encouraged the community to develop applications (and for the most part, unofficially port existing applications over that would be a little muddy if Nokia offered said applications officially). More often than not, if you really wanted an application working, or try to find if a popular application existed, you could just head to the Internet Tablet Talk Forums and either do a search, or post asking for what you’re looking for. Sometime since I acquired the N800, the InternetTabletTalk forums seemed to have been picked up Nokia themselves and became part of the official Nokia forums.

So what did I primarily use the device for? It made for an excellent SSH/telnet, VNC, rdesktop, nmap (among other networking utilities) device for work and home. I’d be able to carry this device around places where simply a laptop was way too cumbersome to bring, and Of course, the occasional run of Doom, Quake, Quake 2 never hurt. The device was extraordinarily useful when I was in Australia for a few months. I was able to walk into a State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, sit on the side on a couch in a noisy part of the library, connect the device to free WiFi, and then Skype out to call back to the States. The desks and provided computers were always full, and a laptop was sort of cumbersome if you weren’t at a desk.

I never utilized e-mail on the N800, mostly because the device had issues connecting to the two Exchange mail servers I’ve tried connecting it to. Plus, the device didn’t have compatible VPN features at the time with the network I would’ve needed to access. It had great on-site uses though.

In my opinion, the device excelled due to it’s unique position in the PDA marketplace among the available platforms–but only with hobbyists who actually understood what the device was. The normal user wasn’t really going to go out and pick one of these devices up, especially since phones with “similar” feature sets were making their way out of the door. Hence, not many people know this device, or Maemo, exists unfortunately. People enjoy making comparisons to the Apple iPhone when talking about anything in 2007 but the iPhone didn’t start eating heavy marketshare until the iPhone 3G was released with App Store support in the summer of 2008.

Since acquiring the N800, I currently have in my possession the latest (and possibly the last) device in the series, the Nokia N900. It is now one the devices I make sure to carry in my backpack all the time, among many others. The significant newest feature of this device is that it supports 3G, so you’re really never left without an Internet connection. Many other improvements have been made, but you can find all of those on the linked wiki.

This post is really preparation of the many posts I’ll be doing in the future on MeeGo running on the Nokia N900 (and possibly other devices), which is the merge of Maemo with Intel’s OS Moblin. Maemo 5 is the last release of Maemo, and the work done on Maemo 6 has been merged into MeeGo.



Commodore 64

19:18 by akylas. Filed under: Hardware

Decided to pull out my Commodore 64 yesterday and hook it up. I don’t have much equipment compared to some of the hobbyists out there, but I have accumulated a decent portion of the “bare essentials” to do anything significant.

Commodore 64 with monitor, mouse, joystick, two 1541 floppy drives, and a 1200 baud modem

All of this is original equipment, and none of it has been modified (yet) to run faster. Most of it (including some equipment not seen in the photograph) was acquired through one eBay auction and a small portion was acquired through a personal sale of the owner of a local retro-gaming shop, all for around $75.

I recently received a 64NIC+, although I’m unable to use it at the moment since I don’t have any software on disk that supports RR-net compatible Ethernet cards. I’m currently with no means to burn .d64 images onto Commodore floppies, although, I did purchase a XA1541 cable, which isn’t expected to arrive for at least a couple more weeks. This cable will allow me to hook up one of the 1541 floppy drives to an older computer, and use software such as cbm4win to burn .d64 images.

There’s a ton of software and games out there on the Internet for the Commodore, but nearly all of it are .d64 images, which for the average person, is difficult convert to a usable form on the Commodore. There’s actually a few methods of going from the .d64 image to being able to use it on the Commodore 64. Some of the methods I have discovered:

  • Using an Xx1541 series cable to connect your 1541 floppy drive (probably not limited to 1541s) to an older computer that has an LPT port.
  • Picking up a modern-day Commodore cartridge or expansion port unit that inputs SD cards and “mounts” it as a drive on the Commodore.
  • Burning an EPROM for use on other cartridges, (e.g. 64NIC+).
  • Connecting the Commodore to a PC so the Commodore can use disks on the PC.
  • Picking up a CMD HD and either connecting that to a PC, and or modifying it to use a SSD or modern HD.

Unfortunately all of these require the purchasing of various parts, some very hard to find and most of them relatively expensive ($50+). By far the cheapest route, with the least number of features, is picking up an Xx1541 series cable. You could also make one of the cables if you have a steady hand.

While I’m waiting for my cable to arrive, I have been digging through my bin of software to become familiar again with all the pieces that I have–mostly to enjoy them again, and so I don’t go out and buy something I already own. I’ve also been browsing through a few of the books that I have in the bin in order to understand the many intricacies of the Commodore that I never knew about, or have forgotten.

Once I receive the XA1541 cable, there’s quite a few things that I’m really excited to try out. These include:

I’ll be chronicling each of these in a separate post as I go through them.

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